What to Feed Baby, and When

4-6 Months

By 4 months you're probably more than ready for something new. The good news is that baby is too: It's time to start solid food. Or, more accurately, mushy food — whether it's from a box, jar or your own blender, at this age baby is only ready for smoothly puréed meals.

Of course, as with any guidelines about feeding baby, keep in mind that the timing for solid food varies by baby, too. "By 3 or 4 months baby will probably be ready to take a spoon," says Collins. Even so, for the first few feedings — and maybe longer — don't be surprised if much of the food ends up on rather than in baby. Baby should get the hang of this new skill pretty quickly, however, says Collins. If baby pushes every bite out with his tongue or turns his head away every time, he's probably not ready. "If he doesn't get the gist, I say put the spoon away and try again in two weeks," says Collins.

Signs that baby is ready for solid food: if he's hungry between feedings, if he can sit up and if he accepts a spoon (i.e., he doesn't push it out with his tongue). Once he's ready, start with iron-enriched baby cereal. Many parents start with a mix of breast milk or formula with one to two tablespoons of rice cereal, once a day at first and then more often as baby desires. By 6 months old baby should be eating three meals a day, in addition to milk or formula. As he ups his intake of solid foods his consumption of milk or formula may decrease, although solid food feedings should be offered in addition to milk or formula, not in place of it.

Once baby is comfortable with cereal, you can start to introduce other foods — either from the jar or those you make yourself with a blender. Collins suggests waiting to introduce fruits and vegetables until baby is 6 months old, although many doctors say you can start introducing them two weeks after you start feeding baby cereal. Whenever you decide to do it, Collins and Unger recommend introducing new foods one at a time, with four or five days between new offerings. This gives you a chance to see if a food produces an allergic reaction — causing an all-over body rash, blood in the stool, diarrhea or vomiting. If you do notice a problem, stop feeding baby the offending food and discuss it with your doctor.

Some parents swear by introducing veggies before fruits — so baby doesn't get hooked on the sweet-tasting fruit and shun veggies — but Unger says order doesn't matter. Just be sure to stick to fruit, vegetables and cereal at this age: Baby isn't quite ready for meat, crackers or teething biscuits yet.

Helpful hint: If you blend your own baby food, portion it in an ice cube tray and freeze — when you need a meal, just defrost a cube or two.

What to do when baby won't eat? "Let them go at their pace," says Collins. "However, I do tell parents that I want every baby to eat three times every day of their life. If they get dehydrated, we've got a problem." However, as long as baby is getting fluid, if he turns his nose up at solid food "give him a little space and he'll come back," says Collins. "Babies have an inborn drive to thrive and to grow and develop."

Helpful hint: Four to 6 months of age is a good time to introduce a cup. Try offering milk or formula in a "sippy" cup rather than a bottle. Of course, don't be surprised if it takes baby a while to get the hang of it. The idea is to slowly get him used to drinking from something other than breast or bottle: It will make weaning baby from either a lot easier.